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Provo student gets opportunity to travel to China

By Shannon Poulsen correspondent - | May 23, 2014

PROVO — It isn’t every day a 16-year-old receives a letter in the mail offering a chance to study abroad in China for three weeks.

Such a letter came for Gretchen Baker via Junior State of America, and the Utah County Academy of Sciences student couldn’t be more thrilled.

“This is like a dream come true for me,” said Baker, a high school junior. “My father grew up all around the world, and it has always interested me to follow in his footsteps. Now I have that opportunity.”

The offer to study in China came not only as a compliment to Baker, but also her parents Jon and Allison Baker.

“We have a great love for the Chinese culture and have no reservations about allowing her to do this,” Allison Baker said. “Jon and I are comfortable and confident with this.”

The mission of JSA is to strengthen American democracy by educating and preparing high school students for lifelong involvement and responsible leadership in a democratic society. Baker will be attending one of the organization’s summer programs, learning statesmanship as she engages in political discourse.

She will have the opportunity to study in the world’s fastest-growing major economy, and will be given a first-hand opportunity to see the economic engine in action in modern-day Beijing by studying in class with other students and through hands-on interaction with a culture that dates back nearly 6,000 years.

“I have always had an interest in the Chinese culture and did take a Chinese language class,” Baker said. “But to focus on international relations and do it right in China, a place I have grown to love, is something I can’t even describe.”

Since 1934, the nonprofit JSA has helped more than 500,000 students acquire the knowledge and skills necessary to be active, informed and responsible citizens, voters and leaders.

“We received 146 applications for the Junior Diplomat Program from all over the world,” said Larry Guillemette, chief academic and outreach officer for the Junior Statesman Foundation. “Gretchen is one of 30 students who were accepted, and one of about 20 that are actually going to study abroad.”

This is the fifth year JSA is offering an international program for students. Baker will be staying at the dorms at Capital Normal University in Beijing with the other students who are studying abroad. She will have the opportunity to listen to and be taught by Chinese and American government officials who will teach the students about political and economic issues.

“I am excited to have the opportunity to work with Chinese high school students and hopefully become more fluent in their language,” Baker said. “Getting to see some landmarks there, and especially the Great Wall of China, is so awesome.”

After high school, Baker plans to attend college and study humanitarian work, and she wants to travel. Her ultimate goal is to be a foreign service officer, just like her grandfather.

The biggest setback in making Baker’s dream trip a reality is the cost. Her school gave her a donation to help, and she has already raised $820. However, the tuition is $6,500 and travel expenses are $1,650. She has also been given the option to stay an extra three days, which would cost another $1,000, but she is grateful for whatever amount of time she can spend in China.

The Baker family has set up a fundraising website to help with the cost at fundraise.jsa.org/fundraise?fcid=311115. The family will also be holding a garage sale today at 3171 Huron Way in Provo to raise money for Baker’s trip.

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